"Dude, I'm not going to recite my bits into a vacuum, you know?" Patton Oswalt tells me.
Fair enough, considering I just asked the comedian if he feels obligated to be funny with interviewers.
"I mean, if it's conversational and natural and it turns funny, that's fine," he answers. "The only time when it's frustrating is when they expect you to run your jokes at them or something. Or, you know, they've heard your album, and they go, 'Hey, I've heard you have some problem with....'"
Speaking of Oswalt's comedy albums—which are clever, angry, and hilarious—I should make a fantastically uncool confession. I didn't find out about Oswalt through those albums, or his voicework in Ratatouille or Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or his appearances on Reno: 911! (he was the Renaissance Faire douchebag who referred to his cell phone as a "scrying device"). No, I found out about Patton Oswalt from The King of Queens.
Yeah, I watch The King of Queens. I know: It's an Everybody Loves Raymond spin-off that's targeted at fortysomething Middle Americans who laugh at stuff like... well, Everybody Loves Raymond, I guess. But there's something about The King of Queens that hooks me whenever it (frequently) shows up in syndication. Actually, there're two things, the first being the main character's disproportionately attractive wife, and the second being Oswalt. Oswalt isn't on The King of Queens a whole lot, but when he is—playing Kevin James' dorky friend Spence—The King of Queens shifts gears from a pretty mediocre sitcom to something pretty goddamn funny.
But Oswalt's best stuff has always been his standup, as showcased in the indie documentary The Comedians of Comedy and on his two albums, Feelin' Kinda Patton and Werewolves and Lollipops—where the jokes range from the political (his comparison of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to Bo and Luke Duke is creepily accurate) to cautionary facts about midgets. ("Be careful, because if you lose a fight to a midget, you become one. Did you know that? It's true! At the beginning of time, there was one midget, and everyone was like, 'C'mon, motherfucker!' And now look around. They're everywhere.")
The Comedians of Comedy tour, featuring Oswalt and a slew of other great comedians (including Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford) returns to Portland this weekend. That tour is why I'm interviewing Oswalt, who gives quick, semi-grumpy answers to questions about his sometimes personal material ("I'll talk about anything. If it's funny, then it's fair game"), his punch-up work on movie scripts ("Go in, do it, go home. Take the money, go home."), or if he's heard from KFC after he shared his observations about their disgusting "Famous Bowls" on Conan ("Why would they know who I am? Why would they care? They're a billion-dollar company").
More interesting to Oswalt is the Comedians of Comedy tour, which he started in 2004.
"I wanted to bring comedy to rock venues where there wasn't, like, a two-drink minimum, where I could control the prices. Do an all-ages kind of show [where] younger people could come out—people who normally wouldn't go to comedy clubs—and get fans earlier in their life, the way people get into bands and music and films.
"It seems to be working," he adds. "Hopefully, I see it going exactly the way it's going now. Very DIY, low-budg, and keeping in small music venues. The only thing I see changing—as people like me and Zach [Galifianakis] and Brian and Maria, as our careers take off, partly because of these tours—we'll start bringing in younger people, and hopefully the brand itself will attract the audience."
When I ask Oswalt what people can expect from his appearance, his answer's about as simple and honest as possible: "Funny standup." Again, fair enough. And that's that, and I realize, too late, that I should have asked if he could hook me up with some The King of Queens DVDs.
The Comedians of Comedy appear at the Roseland Theater (8 NW 6th) at 8 pm on Friday, October 5, $20-25, all ages.